I have just found out that Cody's Books on Telegraph
is scheduled to close in two months and I am beyond distraught. I went there on my first day in Northern California, years and years ago, visiting with my parents. I can still remember the bright sight of flowers in front of a bookstore. I've probably bought the overwhelming majority of my books there, and certainly almost all of my non textbook hardcovers. Almost every author reading I've been to was there. I've discovered most of my favorite poets there. When I was in college I would, for the sake of grades, avoid bookstores for most of the semester. When I handed in my last final, I would run straight to Cody's, money in hand, and luxuriate there for the rest of the day, carefully choosing and stacking my vacation treasure. I can walk up to the customer service people and babble about some book, neither title nor author in hand, and 95% of the time, they'll find it. When we started bombing Iraq I curled up in a chair upstairs and listened to Pico Iyer's soothing voice and prayed. I really, really don't want to lose it.
If you have any ideas, please let me know. Seriously.UPDATE
: What the hell? Ruchira is telling me she's not seeing my level of alarm anywhere else. The Fourth Street store is staying open, so people are nonchalant. WHAT THE HELL? The Fourth Street store is great if you're looking for stuff on art or textiles, or want hand crafted paper. Fine. I met Oscar the Grouch there and that was cool. I got an education about Nantali Finland by a cashier once. But there is NO COMPARISON with Telegraph. Former Presidents and Senators aren't enticed to Fourth Street. You can't pack a room with people interested in science policy at Fourth Street. The Fourth Street store wasn't bombed for stocking Rushdie. Howl
wasn't written across the street from the Fourth Street store. Dustin Hoffman didn't stop Elaine Robinson on the bus on Fourth Street! You can't buy music at late hours near Fourth Street, or sell records, or rummage through vintage clothes, or get the best damn feta-almond-spinach-fuji salad in California! You can't go to an author reading and then grab take out and eat dinner under the stars in a Redwood grove, or off in a plaza filled with vendors! IT's NOT THE SAME!
I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but Fourth Street is Yuppie central. Now I probably qualify as something of a yuppie--though certainly not because of my wages--but that's the whole point. I don't NEED my whole universe to blandified into a well-designed set of tasteful, pleasant landscapes where everyone is just like me. Cody's on Telegraph is connected to the street. Cody's lets you loiter in the front and talk to people. Cody's lets street poets and homeless guys set up tables in front of the store. How many truly great bookstores--bookstores that great authors from all over the world carefully pen into their tour calendars--are so perfectly at the intersection of art, science, wealth, and poverty? I imagine there are some in Boston and NYC. I've always wanted to visit Powells--seriously, that's like the main reason I want to go to Portland. Well this is ours.Update II
: Non Berkeley-Friends who are trying be sympathetic and comforting have all kinds of sage observations about market forces and the nature of nostalgia. My initial reaction above reached into sentiment and nostalgia, but this is not a sentimental, nostalgic problem. It's not even about saving ambiance. This is a community disaster. Cody's Telegraph is one of a very small number of Bay Area bookstores that regularly hosts authors of new, cutting edge journalism, policy and science-writing. One knocked off the list will make the Bay Area one less plausible stop for a cash-strapped book tour, and non-trivially dents the chances that any given author will visit the area or spend a reasonable amount of time here. That means less opportunities to to be a guest on shows like KQED's Forum, less opportunities to be interviewed by local papers (and relate their writing to local issues), less reasons to speak at the Commonwealth Club or the World affairs Council. Less discussion. Less purchasing. Fewer books. Less journalism. Less democracy.
I really don't mean to dis the Fourth Street Store. I like it a lot and I've been to some very lovely literary readings there. I also like the new San Francisco store a lot. But you can't get to Fourth Street by BART, and San Francisco is very far away from a large portion of the Bay Area. Ten years ago I was a frequently broke, carless teenager who lived in Concord. Get rid of Cody's and you get rid of most of that teenager's opportunities to interact with the wide world of books and authors and adults who like to read about serious topics. I was lucky in that my parents are great lovers of books--if they wanted to treat me, they would take me to Cody's, and I'm sure if it had been necessary, they would have let me go to San Francisco. Not everyone is that lucky.
Cody's also anchors the street. Apparently Telegraph's increasingly unruly crowd is what's driving it out in the first place, but Cody's going will make the problem ten times worse. An abandoned Telegraph avenue is bad for the University--and I don't mean the dry institution that's often mismanaged by the regents, I mean the living community of people who work had to provide the best public higher education.
The owner, Andy Ross, doesn't seem to feel that this incarnation of the store can be saved, and I am sure he hasn't made this decision lightly. Right now I'm wondering about two options--can the store be moved to the Downtown Shattuck area, which has been experiencing a Rennaissance of book culture, and isn't quite as unruly? Or, can someone else buy the Telegraph store and keep it open?
The East Bay really should not lose its premier forum for the discussion of new writing, especially new nonfiction.